05 December 2009

Guest Post by Hans Von Storch: The Sustainability of Climate Science

The Sustainability of Climate Science

1 The social institution "science"

Doing science, creating new knowledge, in German: Wissen schaffen, is a social activity. As all social activities, it can be done sustainably. Or not.

Studying classical Chinese language or the dramatic living of Christian IV is most likely done sustainably. The present science will have a bearing on future science, in an enriching way, but not in a limiting manner. The present science will not inhibit the legitimacy of future science. The public will be excited about future knowledge as it is about present newly constructed insights.

Research about the forest die back in Germany may serve as an example at the other end of the spectrum. The science of forest damages was in the 1980s heavily politicized, and used as support for a specific preconceived "good" policy of environmental protection. The resulting overselling and dramatization broke down in the 1990s, and news about adverse developments in German forests is now a hard sell in Germany. An observer[i] wrote in 2004: "The damage for the scientists is enormous. Nobody believes them any longer."[ii] Of course, the damage was not only limited to the forest researchers, but also to other environmental scientists and politicians as well.

And climate research? Often it is done sustainably, but sometimes not. Some institutions and some publicly visible scientists are known for simplifying and dramatizing statements of what one would expect from NGOs, e.g., "Coal-fired power plants are factories of death."[iii] A communication of drama is intended to "move", to initiate "action". The science is supposed to support a preconceived political agenda of something "good".

Overselling takes place in the triangle between policy, media and science. It goes with a risk[iv]: The risk for policy-makers is in the possibility that the goals set in this manner cannot be achieved, the ‘‘loss of legitimacy due to taking on too much.’’ The media primarily fear the ‘‘loss of public attention,’’ due to concepts and conceptual fields becoming worn out. For science, the principal risk is the ‘‘loss of credibility due to the particular dynamic of the catastrophe metaphor’’, or any other characteristic misleading concept.

Exploiting short-term "advantages" in the public-political discourse by simplification and dramatization for furthering a pre-conceived agenda helps generating attention and short-lived support for this agenda, but can hardly maintained for a long time as required in case of climate change policies. Attributing hurricane Katrina to climate change made headlines, and depicting global warming as an uninterrupted continuous upward trend made the understanding of the concept of global warming easier. But, later, we have to pay a price. There were no more Hurricane-disasters like Katrina's since 2005, and warming is stagnating in the last years. Both facts are not surprising for the climate researcher. They are consistent with the scientific understanding of the phenomenon named "Global Warming". However they are at odds with the simplifying-dramatizing communication strategy and with the resulting medial construction.

The maximization of short-term utility goes with a prize: The public will understand that it has been manipulated, and that it had not honestly been advised by its publicly funded social institution "science". Admittedly, manipulated for something, which has been perceived by certain elites as "good" – but what is the principal difference in this respect between Greenpeace and Exxon?

The effect is twofold. First, the public will no longer believe in the "story", or consider it merely entertainment – and people will effectively become sceptics. Certainly the contrary of the originally intended effect! Second, the public will be unable to distinguish the social institution science[v] and value-based NGOs – with the latter being considerably cheaper in delivering the same politically useful knowledge claims!

2 Conditions for a sustainable practice of climate science

Thus, for the sake of the credibility of our now young PhD students, for maintaining the role of science as a useful social service and resource for society – we scientists have the obligation to do our act sustainably, and not to subordinate it as auxiliary tool to a broader politically defined "good"?

This obligation for acting sustainably requires:

1)Admitting that scientific knowledge is uncertain and often in need of future revision. This admission does not mean that this lack of certainty would prevent the knowledge from being used. The public as well as decision makers are used to acting under uncertainty.

In case of climate science it has been estimated that about 10% of all scientists harbour some doubts whether it is really the emission of greenhouse gases which causes the present warming.[vi] On the other hand, about 80% subscribe to this explanation, which is a high percentage and may be taken as evidence for significant good arguments pointing towards these emissions as dominant driver of the ongoing changes, and to the perspective of future further warming. Among the sceptics are many driven by secondary motives[vii] but some have purely scientific reservations. There is nothing bad about it.

2)Understanding that the public discourse about climate change driven by two different knowledge claims – a scientific and a medial construction.[viii]

The scientific construct of human-made climate change is widely supported within the relevant scientific communities[ix], and has been comprehensively formulated particularly thanks to the collective and consensual efforts of the UN IPCC. According to this construction[x] human beings are changing the global climate. Climate is the statistics of the weather. In almost all localities, at present and in the foreseeable future, the frequency distributions of the temperature are shifting to higher values and will continue to do so; sea level is rising; amounts of rainfall are changing. Some extremes such as heavy rainfall events will change. The driving force behind these alterations is above all the emission of greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere, where they interfere with the radiative balance of the Earth system.

Of course, there is no complete consensus in the scientific community, so that speaking of “the scientific construct” is a simplification, which is applied here for describing the contrast to the media construct, which is equally not just one construct but features many different variants.

This medial construct may be summarized in this way: Climate is changing because of human activity. The weather is less reliable than it was before, the seasons more irregular, the storms more violent. Weather extremes are taking on catastrophic and previously unknown forms. The cause? Human greed and stupidity. The mechanism: the justice, or the revenge, of a nature that is striking back. For large chunks of the population, at least in Central and Northern Europe, the mechanism is obvious.[xi] In old times, the adverse climatic developments were the just response to a God angered by human sins; this approach is also today, in particular in the US and possibly in the UK, sometimes invoked.[xii]

3)Accepting that from the understanding of the dynamics of climate change and of future perspectives unequivocally political conclusions about required or meaningful measures cannot be drawn.[xiii]

From the diagnosis that humans are changing the climate, and that the time-integrated global emissions are determining the magnitude of the change, there is no immediate conclusion about the political implications to be drawn. Climate science is not "telling us what to do", but science is telling us, what the effect of which political conclusion would be. To do so, climate science should do research on the range of options, on their efficiency and costs, drawbacks and advantages. When results of this sort are available, the social decisions should be left to the democratic system. There should be a separation between scientific analysis and political decision making.

An interesting detail is that research for Northern Germany found out that people have hardly an idea about the regional or even local needs and options concerning required adaptation measures strategies to deal with the unavoidable part of future climate change.[xiv]

4)Accepting that accurate language is needed – and that scientific terminology may conflict with every day language.[xv]

An important example is the usage of the term "prediction" or "forecast". In climate we have not yet predictions, which would be a description of the most probable future development. We do not have such predictions, because we can not predict the future emissions and we have not yet developed methods to determine the present state sufficiently accurately. We have "scenarios" or "projections", which are descriptions of a series of possible futures. The latter are considerably less certain than the former, but useful nonetheless – if applied adequately.

For instance, a trend labeled as "statistically significant" does not necessarily extend into the future, or must be of anthropogenic origin. A counter example is the seasonal warming: The February-July temperature trend is significant, natural and does not extent into September.

5)Explaining that reality is really complex and not simple. There are various examples, when simplifications lead to incorrect and misleading conclusions.

Sometimes the argument was brought forward that the warming of the atmosphere would necessarily bring about an intensification of mid-latitude storms – because of elevated water vapor levels. If the argument would be correct, we would not have winter but summer storms. And indeed, we can not identify an intensification of "our storms"[xvi] in spite of a clear warming in Denmark since 1873.[xvii]

Interested economic quarters argue that the dramatic increase in damages to land-falling storms along the US coast would be evidence for intensifying hurricanes, but an alternative, better explanation is that economic value along the coasts has dramatically increased in recent decades.[xviii]

The fact that Mozart's song "Come, dear month of May, and make the trees flowering again" is no proof of late flowering of trees in Mozart's Vienna in the late 18th century, and thus cool conditions, but due to the usage of lines written by a Lübeck major.[xix]

Assessment of data needs the expert knowledge to sort out issues of inhomogeneity[xx] (contamination of large-scale climate signals by other origins, such as the process of observing, processing etc.).

Another case is the present "stagnation" of warming.

3 Science communication and service

Based on these general insights, concrete measures for a sustainable communication between science, the public, media, political and economic decision makers are needed.

On the global and continental scale, the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change IPCC provides reasonable communication, even if the IPCC suffers from some limitations. Examples are a partial politicization, the fact that frequently dominant authors rely on their own work, or the failure of Working Group 2 to accept the assessment of Working Group 1 about the dynamics and change of climate when assessing the impacts of climate.

On the regional and local scale, however, the IPCC is much less efficient, but different regional and local bodies provide services. An early excellent example was the Rossby-Center in Norrköping; the now founded CRES here in København is another good example. The Helmholtz-Association has set up a number of Regional Climate Offices in different parts of Germany[xxi]; also a national Climate Service Center is beginning its operation in that country.

What needs to be done is:[xxii]

1)The establishment of contacts for enabling a public-science dialogue. Here, the term "public" refers to the society at large, the media and political and economic decision makers.

For the direction science-to-public this implies that users of climate knowledge and information understand qualitatively and quantitatively the scientific knowledge about climate, climate change and impact – and do not need to rely on unreliable media reporting and claims making by interested parties. This includes the understanding of uncertainty, limitation in spatial and temporal resolution, the character of scenarios, the non-existence of prognoses as such, the role of natural variability, and the presence of ensemble spread.

For the direction public-to-science, the need is the understanding of concerns and questions in the public realm as well as among decision makers[xxiii]; it includes also the analysis of the media construction of climate change.

The alternative concepts of "informing", "teaching" or other types of "knowledge speaks to power/lay people" should be avoided, as they can not provide the needed qualified feedback, nor can they deal with the ubiquitous alternative knowledge claims. They also fail to acknowledge the limitations of the scientific actors in understanding the social, cultural and political context.

2)The determination of possible future climate changes, of worst-case scenarios[xxiv] as well as best-case scenarios. The latter would describe the regional and local climate changes, which would have to be expected in case of successful, or even very successful international climate protection measures – and would thus represent "unavoidable" climate changes, which would require in any case adaptive responses.

Additionally, knowledge about options to deal with expected adverse change is needed. Such options may include changes in urban planning[xxv], including un-doing of urban heat island effects, or different hydrodynamic regimes in estuaries and satellite[xxxi], regional re-analyses or downscaled global re-analysis[xxxii].

This task is unfortunately often overseen, when the emphasis of the work is put mostly or even entirely on possible future developments. Indeed, the assessment of the recent past and of the ongoing change should be considered equally important than the design of scenarios of possible futures.

4 Epilogue

The present essay calls for a sustainable practice of climate science. Such a sustainability requires that science is not degenerating to a sort of politics and policymaking; instead science is supposed to provide coldly, impassionately, knowledge about the options of policymaking. For doing so, it needs first of all to do "good science", which needs openness, reproducibility, falsification, publication. And the acceptance that science the pursuit of satisfying curiosity is a part of our western culture.

[i] Günter Keil, 2004: Chronik einer Panik. Ein Vierteljahrhundert Waldsterben - oder wie ein deutscher Mythos entstand, sich verfestigte und allmählich zerbröckelt. Beobachtungen aus dem Bundesforschungsministerium. DIE ZEIT 51/2004.

[ii] "Der Schaden für die Wissenschaftler ist enorm. Nun glaubt ihnen keiner mehr.", op. cit.

[iii] Quote needed

[iv] Weingart, P., A. Engels and P. Pansegrau, 2000: Risks of communication: Discourses on climate change in science, politics and the mass media. Public Understanding of Science 9, 261-283

[v] which in the spirit of the US National Research Council is supposed to impartially sort out complex questions about the functioning and dynamics of our natural and social systems.

[vi] Bray, D. and H. von Storch, 2007: Climate Scientists’ Perceptions of Climate Change Science. GKSS-Report 11/2007, Geesthacht, http://coast.gkss.de/staff/storch/pdf/GKSS_2007_11.pdf

[vii] Lahsen, M., 2008: Experience of modernity in the greenhouse: A cultural analysis of a physicist "trio" supporting backlash against global warming. Global Env. Change 18: 204-219

[viii] von Storch, H., 2009: Climate Research and Policy Advice: Scientific and Cultural Constructions of Knowledge. Env. Science Pol. 12, 741-747 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2009.04.008

[ix] See Bray and von Storch, op cit.

[x] The term "construction" is not meant to belittle the scientific process or to hint to manipulation but merely to the fact that the knowledge has been obtained in a building process, exploiting different other forms of knowledge; see also Müller, P., and H. von Storch, 2004: Computer Modelling in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences - Building Knowledge. Springer Verlag Berlin - Heidelberg - New York, 304pp, ISN 1437-028X

[xi] On 14 August 2002, the reputable Swedish daily newspaper „Dagens Nyheter“ wrote: „Naturen slår tilbakavåldsamt.” (Nature strikes back violently), when reporting about a disastrous flooding in the Czech Republic.

[xii] An example is provided by a former Chair of a IPCC Working Group who expressed his conviction that God would speak to the public through disasters (Welch, F., 1995: Me and My God. Sunday Telegraph, 10.9.1995). Or, as it is put on the back cover of an alarmistic book “Our drowning world” (Milne, A., 1989: Our drowning world, London: Prism Press): “…we shall be engulfed by the consequences of our greed and stupidity. Nearly two thirds of our world could disappear under polar ice cap water … For this will be the inevitable outcome of industrialization, urbanization, overpopulation and the accompanying pollution.” An enlightened variant is suggested by Lovelock in the framework of his Gaia-hypothesis, when he speaks about “The revenge of Gaia - why Earth is fighting back …” (Lovelock, J., 2006: The revenge of Gaia – Why Earth is fighting back – and How we can still save humanity. Penguin Group, London, 177 pp.).

[xiii] Pielke Jr., R., 2007: The Honest Broker. Cambridge University Press.

[xiv] Ratter, B., M. Lange und C. Sobiech, 2009: Heimat, Umwelt und Risiko an der deutschen Nordseeküste. Die Küstenregion aus Sicht der Bevölkerung. GKSS 2009/11. ISSN 0344-9629, 110 pp

[xv] E.g., Bray, D., and H. von Storch, 2009: 'Prediction' or 'Projection'? The nomenclature of climate science. Sci. Comm. 30, 534-543, doi:10.1177/1075547009333698

[xvi] E.,g., Bärring, L. and H. von Storch, 2004: Northern European Storminess since about 1800. Geophys. Res. Letters 31, L20202, doi:10.1029/2004GL020441, 1-4 [xvii] Cappelen, J., 2008 ... Vejret

[xviii] Pielke, Jr., R.A., Gratz, J., Landsea, C.W., Collins, D., Saunders, M., and Musulin, R., 2008: Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1900-2005. Natural Hazards Review , 9: 29-42

[xix] Böhm, R., 2009: Heiße Luft – Reizwort Klimawandel. Vabene Publisher, Vienna

[xx] E.g., Peterson, T.C., D.R. Easterling, T.R. Karl, P. Groisman, N. Nicholls, N. Plummer, S. Torok, I.Auer, R. Boehm, D. Gullett, L. Vincent, R. Heino, H. Tuomenvirta, O. Mestre, T. Szentimrey, J. Saliner, E. Førland, I. Hanssen-Bauer, H. Alexandersson, P. Jones and D. Parker, 1998: Homogeneity adjustments of in situ atmospheric climate data: A review. Intern. J. Climatol. 18: 1493-1517

[xxi] Schipper, J.W., I. Meinke, S. Zacharias, R. Treffeisen, Ch. Kottmeier, H. von Storch,und P. Lemke, 2009: Regionale Helmholtz Klimabüros bilden bundesweites Netz. DMG Nachrichten 1-2009, 10-12

[xxii] von Storch, H. and I. Meinke, 2008: Regional climate offices and regional assessment reports needed. Nature geosciences 1 (2), 78, doi:10.1038/ngeo111

[xxiii] E.g., Kempton, W., J.S. Boster and J. A. Hartley, 1995: Environmental values in American Culture. MIT Press, Cambridge MA and London, ISBN 0-262-11191-8, 320 pp

[xxiv] For instance the work of the Dutch "Delta-Commissie" in 2008 on worst-case flooding and storm surge scenarios along the Dutch coast; see http://www.deltacommissie.com/en/advies

[xxv] Gill, S.E., J.F. Handley, A.R.Ennos and S. Paulett, 2007: Adapting cities for climate change: The role of the green infrastructure, Built Environment 33, 115-133

[xxvi] von Storch, H., G. Gönnert, and M. Meine, 2008: Storm surges – an option for Hamburg, Germany, to mitigate expected future aggravation of risk. Env. Sci. Pol. 11: 735-742 doi 10.1016/j.envsci.2008.08.003

[xxvii] The so-called BACC report: The BACC author team, 2008: Assessment of Climate Change in the Baltic Sea Basin., Springer Verlag Berlin - Heidelberg; ISBN 978-3-540-72785, 473 pp

[xxviii] A first draft is made public on November 2009 in the city hall of Hamburg; the final publication in a book is expected during 2010.

[xxix] E.g., Bhend, J., and H. von Storch, 2009: Is greenhouse gas forcing a plausible explanation for the observed warming in the Baltic Sea catchment area?, Boreal Env. Res., 14:81-88

[xxx] E.g., the CRU data sets: Jones, P. D. and Moberg, A., 2003: Hemispheric and largescale surface air temperature variations: An extensive revision and an update to 2001. Journal of Climate,16(2):206–223

[xxxi] E.g., from the Global Precipitation Climatology Centre: Schneider, U., T. Fuchs, A. Meyer-Christoffer, and B Rudolf, 2008: Global precipitation analysis products of the GPCC. Technical report, Global Precipitation Climatology Centre (GPCC), Deutscher Wetterdienst

[xxxii] Weisse, R., H. von Storch, U. Callies, A. Chrastansky, F. Feser, I. Grabemann, H. Günther, A. Plüss, T. Stoye, J. Tellkamp, J. Winterfeldt and K. Woth, 2009: Regional meteo-marine reanalyses and climate change projections: Results for Northern Europe and potentials for coastal and offshore applications, Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc. 90: 849-860. http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/2008BAMS2713.1


  1. This post is almost unreadably ugly. Can you not do something about the formatting?

  2. -1-

    Sorry, looks just fine to me.

    Will see what I can do.

  3. IMHO, required is the open independent verification and validation (IV&V) of the climate data and climate models. And, disagreeing with this post's author, the process used for IV&V should be determined by scientific/engineering IV&V experts, not the climate scientists themselves.

    Climate scientists apparently don't know how to do IV&V. The authority of peer review isn't even designed to accomplish IV&V. The IPCC has failed to be an independent authority both scientifically and politically and has not employed the proper processes. And trying to exercising authority by scientific consensus violates the philosophy of science.

    Secondly, a little less hubris on the part of climate scientists is called for. It is far from certain that the range of possible future climate changes, especially on regional and local scales, is even approximately obtainable. Additionally, knowledge about options to deal with predicted changes are the domain of politics, economics, and engineering, not science.

  4. Roger,

    When viewed with FireFox, the post is fine (at least where the appearance is concerned). Using the inferior Windows IE, the post is indeed “ugly”. Leave it to a “Lib” to be using IE. ;-)

    The problem revolves around code surrounding links to the “Footnotes” as well as “Lists”. Although these links have a proper presentation under FireFox, the links do not work under either browser.

    Ergo, my suggestion is to eliminate all the source code using the “if” and “endif” macros related to “SupportFootnotes” and “SupportLists”.

  5. This post has a bunch of unprocessed script tags like: --[if !supportFootnotes]--

    I am using IE8

  6. @gmcrews: "required is the open independent verification and validation (IV&V) of the climate data and climate models."

    Agreed; there is a rich literature of V&V for complex computational physics simulation used to support manufacturing and product development decisions. The climate change community seems to acknowledge this very little, if at all.

    AIAA and ASME both have published standards on model V&V (the references in the AIAA standard are a good intro to the literature); does a similar standard exist for climate forecasting?

  7. Format seems OK in IE 7. Content a little blurry, though.

    "In case of climate science it has been estimated that about 10% of all scientists harbour some doubts whether it is really the emission of greenhouse gases ..."

    Not sure I agree with this. I took the trouble to follow the reference and the study admits to less than ideal sample size and controversy. My sense is the highly politicized nature of the topic by 2003 would also taint this. Also, I am really getting put off by arguments by head count. If a few people mislead, and herd follows, then what value is the size of the herd as an indicator of good leadership?

    "In old times, the adverse climatic developments were the just response to a God angered by human sins; this approach is also today, in particular in the US and possibly in the UK, sometimes invoked."

    What is the author driving at here? Is he recommending this or taking a swipe at the media?

  8. Roger,

    Much better, but there are still two problems.

    1) I suggest you eliminate all “span” tags containing the “font-size:100%” property wherein that “span” tag is preceded by an “H1” tag.

    These “span” tags are both malformed and unnecessary.

    There are 3 such instances -- associated with subtitles 2 through 4.

    The only occasion where this is causing a problem is when the text associated with this malformed “span” tag spans two or more lines. And, whether it does so depends upon the screen resolution of the computer it is displayed upon.

    2) The author obviously intended to include 4 instances of the “H1” tag -- one for each of the 4 subtitles. The last improvement would be to precede the first subtitle with an “H1” tag.

  9. Roger:
    Much much better. However, Storch's prose will take a lot more work! ;)

  10. Roger,

    The latest correction isn't quite what I had in mind. But, it will do.

    I guess I'm not much of a teacher! ;-)

  11. I actually think the content of this post is both very good and very timely. In terms of 'public to science,' I would like to call for a revisiting of 'what we know' that is no longer true, to sweep the decks of grossly oversimplified or actually incorrect statements that have been allowed to poison the discourse, even after corrections have been pointed out. Our host can certainly point to misstatements about the intensity and frequency of storms as one example. Another is found in John Rennie's article on the Scientific American website, where he echoes Al Gore on the hoary chestnut about Arrhenius predicting 6 degrees Celsius of warming with a doubling of CO2 concentrations, and conveniently overlooking his recalculations that gave a 2 degree rise. (This kind of misstatement occurs on both sides of the argument, obviously, but carries more weight when it comes from consensus holders seeking to silence skeptics and other critics.)

  12. Some really bad science here.

    Weather is not getting more extreme.

    Temperatures are not rising at almost all locations. Even the ridiculously bad databases indicate that rising temps come from a minority of locations.

    And his praise for the IPCC is a joke.

    By the way, how many of the studies he cites have been replicated? Or even audited? How about we see some real science where theories have to be tested and studies replicated? Then we'd have something we could honestly call science.

    Climate science is becoming a laughingstock because the public is becoming aware that the scientific method has been largely abandoned. Untested assertions, sloppy studies and outright fraud are passed off as evidence. The hubris is bad enough. The incompetence is startling.

    Given what we have seen from Mann repeatedly and the monstrosity that Rahmstorf et al gave us in 2007, we KNOW that a lot of what passes for "studies" in the climate science area are pure crap. See Briffa and Steig for examples of more of this mess. Anyone who's read CA can think of many more.

    If climate scientists aren't willing to police this garbage, why should they have any credibility? Of course, they not only don't clean it up, they affirmatively cite this garbage as if it were valid!

    There is absolutely no excuse for what Briffa did. No excuse for the Rahmstorf embarassment. What kind of fool creates his own code for PCA rather than use a commercial stat package? No wonder he screwed it up.

    Why have climate scientists refused to get help from stats experts as Wegman counseled? Why have they refused to get software pros to help with the code instead of trying to cobble together amateurish garbage?

    What kind of people advocate massive change in society on the basis of amateur hour? They could have gotten help from pros but refused. They could have opened up their "science", but refused. They could have released the data and methods, but they played hide the ball. And the climate scientists had no problem with any of it.

    Which is why they have no credibility now.

  13. I'm reading it in Chrome and it looks fine.

    I think the author makes some excellent points although occasionally English fails him (for "prize" read "price" I think) and the term "sustainability" has been thrashed to pulp by others.

  14. Note -- the making up of his own code was a reference to Mann, not Rahmstorf.

  15. I agree with those who argue that independent verification is essential to credibility recapture.

    However, I am mystified by the need for more datasets about past climate (in purple on my screen). As a person engaged in adaptation rather than climate science- I have to say- it sounds like climate scientists wanting more data to analyze. Not something that will be useful in real world adaptation.

    I agree with gmcrews that knowledge to deal with options is not all climate science, but I would add all the biological science fields and medicine.

    A problem for climate scientists is that all these other fields develop models and test them empirically. Where we generally find surprises of all kinds. So the people dealing with policy in those fields will tend to require more than the equivalent of a "trust us" from the models whose results we are expected to use as input.

  16. Stan:
    Your comments on VonStorch:
    “Weather is not getting more extreme.
    Temperatures are not rising at almost all locations. …
    And his praise for the IPCC is a joke.”

    I read VonStorch as giving examples of scientific and media constructs in the public discourse. As for “praise”, I read his description of the IPCC as little more than a means for “reasonable communication“ internationally.

    I admit that I had to read VonStorch a few times. In doing so, I am reminded of writings by Sarewitz and both Pielkes.

    I agree with most of your clear and concise points. But, if you had to address those points completely in German, my guess is someone may suggest your German “prose” would take a lot more work. ;>)

  17. I can't disagree with his statement "Among the sceptics are many driven by secondary motives[vii] but some have purely scientific reservations. There is nothing bad about it."
    But, if he was honest he would admit the same is true for those that support global warming. Many of them have secondary motives. Isn't most climate related research government funded? How much funding is going to be provided if no climate crisis exists? So climate scientists have an incentive to interpret their data in a manner that maximizes the amount of change that has occurred.

  18. Formatting fine in Safari/Mac, and it's a thoughtful piece. Thanks to you and to the author.

  19. I continually see the claim that many more scientists support the basic claims of AGW than not. I would truly like to see an accurate count of reasonably qualified scientists that actually made independent literature reviews to come to their position. I firmly believe that most of the so called skeptics did their homework, but that most (but not all) of the CAGW supporters did a much less independent exam of the literature, and just accept the loudly stated position supporting CAGW. I know I initially accepted the CAGW position until I read much more of the actual literature, and I think that those that still support that position either are less well read, or support the position for other reasons (we do need to wean off oil and do need to reduce pollution). There probably is no argument that there is some AGW, bit the issues are if it is CAGW, or even truly above natural variation levels.

  20. When I assess an opinion piece I try to gauge the writer's objectivity and balance. To do this, I apply my "What's good for the goose..." test. This test looks to see if the writer assesses whether their implicit or explicit evaluations/attributions/criticisms of one side are also applicable to the other. Classic examples include charges that one side is receiving funding from a group that has a known vested interest. (Some time ago I looked at the revenues of the various major environmental groups - the $$ available for political and policy messaging are pretty staggering and probably easily match those actually spent by the fossil fuel industries. This would be a worthwhile piece of investigative journalism.) As someone has already pointed out, self-interest exists on both sides of this debates as does ideology. Alas Von Storch is not as balanced as I would like, since he seems primarily interested in cooking the goose and leaving the gander untouched.

  21. There's little question that obvious hubris generally, and the email-gate event, in particular, weaken the public's confidence in science, and in climate science. And this weakens the "Sustainability of Climate Science".

    But some of the 'bias' that Hans reveals in this essay doesn't help either!

    "There should be a separation between scientific analysis and political decision making." sounds like the call for separation of church and state.

    But there's an enormous difference that the public at large does not understand:

    Science, politics, economics and religion (and math) require some agreed upon commitments to 'axiomatic rules' that are 'designed' to assure consistency in examining various models, hypotheses etc. within each of these disciplines. Commitment to these axioms is 'faith-like" because axioms are assumed, and can't be 'proven'.

    But science (and 'engineering') also uniquely demand that the certainty with which a model will be 'believed', is measured ONLY by how well observation of the real world matches the 'projections/predictions' of such models.

    This should give science and engineering an 'authority', in political decision making, that trumps that of all other disciplines.

    When scientist squander public trust with hype and hubris, they therefore tend to cripple societies' most useful tools!

  22. Leonard Weinstein (Sun Dec 06, 10:13:00 AM MST),

    Anecdotally, I can confirm that every PhD scientist I know who strongly believes in CAGW has never read, watched or listened to anything beyond what so-called “journalists” present to them. Even where “journalism” is concerned, these tend to be people who have configured their TV not to receive Fox News.

    Ironically, one very short lived debate with one of these PhDs began with a question presented to me about whether I believed the planet had recently warmed. Rather than implicitly accept the infamous Hockey Stick as religious doctrine, I began to hedge and qualify my AFFIRMATION of the premise. At that moment and I was immediately declared to be an entirely unreasonable heretic and unworthy of the debate. That “debate” lasted about 15 seconds. And, years later, the PhD continues to decline any further discussion.

    And, now we have ClimateGate. ;-)

  23. bernie

    Follow the money

    The biggest lobbying group at Copenhagen will be the International Emissions Trading Association which was created to promote carbon trading more than ten years ago. That's why every corporate newspaper and TV station has been telling us that the science is settled since that time.

    Its members include :-

    BP, Conoco Philips, Shell, E.ON AG (coal power stations owner, EDF (one of the largest participants in the global coal market), Gazprom (Russian oil and gas), Goldman Sachs, Barclays, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley..


  24. First of all thanks to Dr. Von Storch About the scientific construct and the medial construct. I think it is true to say that some scientists (e.g VS himself) have shown in the scientific circles a desire to differentiate themselves from those having other agendas. However, I regret they did not do the same in the mass media arena. They heard the voices of other colleagues launching exaggerated statements, not in the scientific circles but in the magazines, TV's, radios, etc.

    Wouldn't have been much better to read this VS's text in 2007, or even before?

  25. -26-rjb

    How about 2005?


  26. The fundamental problem for me is that scientists are employees. They aren't allowed personal opinions. Any employee expressing an opinion contrary to that of management these days, will be sacked if he persists.

    There have been a few high profile bloggers, (often low level people) in Britain who have been shut down.

    A recent local one involved the tales of a bus driver describing the very real horrors of driving a bus in a violent, deprived city. The BBC piloted a comedy programme based on the blog. He was shut down and the BBC series hasn't been made.


  27. Well, that changes my view certainly. Thanks. Yet citizens perceive that the 80/10 ratio mentioned by VS has to be shifted to 99.9/0.1 when moving from the so called "scientific constuct" to the "media construct". Is this a unique responsibility from the mass media and politicians?. My point is, I might well be wrong, some scientific voices could have been heard louder (outside scientific arena).

    Thank for the info. (and to Dr. VS)

  28. Len O makes good points. If science and engineering are done properly, they should have tremendous persuasiveness in regard to certain types of political decisions. When the science is open, transparent and in accord with the scientific method, we can nail down a lot. And even when there is disagreement among "experts" we should be able to sort out the areas of agreement and the reasons for disagreement. This can be helpful, even when disagreement is strong.

    However, science only takes you so far. Suppose that the climate models were actually verified and validated. Suppose that there was actually quality, replicated science that established a reasonable estimate of feedbacks for CO2. And suppose that all this quality science established that we might experience a temperature rise over the next 100 years. {Difficult to imagine, I know, but let's pretend for a moment.] Even then, we need input from economics as to the costs and benefits of various proposals. We'd still need to make value judgments about how to proceed. We'd need to make guesstimates about the course of future technological innovations. And of course, we'd still have enormous arguments about where climate ranks with other extremely important needs. Economics is the study of how we allocate scarce resources among unlimited needs.

    Oh, and the relative importance of liberty, national sovereignty, the dangers of government power, and questions of accountability for international organizations need to be determined in the political sphere. This takes us well beyond anything for which science can provide meaningful guidance.

  29. It is good to see that not all climate scientist are fanatics.
    Al Godar

  30. Concerning "[iii] Quote needed" (above).

    I found this here:

    It says that it reprints the following article:

    James Hansen
    The Observer, Sunday 15 February 2009
    Article history:
    James Hansen: Coal-fired power plants are death factories. Close them
    This article appeared on p29 of the Comment section of the Observer on Sunday 15 February 2009.
    It was published on guardian.co.uk at 00.01 GMT on Sunday 15 February 2009.
    It was last modified at 12.59 GMT on Monday 16 February 2009.

    citation from the article:
    The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death.


  31. Warning: due to misplaced HTML comments, some of this essay is missing. (That's why footnotes xxvi to xxviii are never referenced.)